The title, Voice Tears, refers to both a tearing or ripping gesture and to the act of weeping. Wide-ranging orchestral arpeggios are a predominant gesture in the work and can be heard metaphorically as a ‘tearing’ of the sound up and down through the orchestra. This gesture is also a poetic metaphor for the ‘weeping’ of the orchestral voices and is prominently portrayed in several ‘lament’ sections in the piece.

Following in the vein of a number of my works over the past few years, the Voice Tears is based upon the use of a limited number of harmonic sonorities. Two widely-spaced symmetrical chords appear prominently at the opening of the piece; and a series of eight-note chords are transformed into a series of arching melodies at several points in the work by means of arpeggiation and isorhythmic procedures. These sonorities appear throughout the work, either in a readily identifiable orchestral scoring, or used as a resource to be drawn upon for additional harmonic and melodic materials.

A meandering contrapuntal texture, drawn from the inner voices of the two opening symmetrical chords, provides a barely audible backbone for the first main arpeggio section in the piece. This texture is later brought to the fore in the lower and then upper strings. An alternating exchange between the strings, in varied scorings of the eight main sonorities, and the remainder of the orchestra provides an exuberant and frenetic contrast to much of the rest of the work. The exuberant and arpeggio styles eventually merge and lead to a pensive section of the piece that serves as a transition to a varied return of the initial arpeggio texture and subsequently a fleeting coda.

Although melody is not of primary importance in Voice Tears, a short, ascending melody, appearing for the first time in the oboe, trumpet, and solo violin at the beginning of the piece, reappears virtually unchanged at several junctures in the piece and provides an element of continuity. The melodic fragment contributes to a sense of static nostalgia in the piece, a treasured memory or voice resistant to change.

The ‘lament’ inherent in Voice Tears is in many respects in reaction to the music of the 20th century. As I drew near to the completion of this work, the end of the 20th century also drew near, and a profound sense of loss overpowered me. The challenging and often difficult music of the latter half of that century, a century in which I had lived half of my life, a century in which I had reveled in the discoveries and bold innovations of fellow composers, was now a music of the past. Would it now even more easily be avoided by performers, concert programmers and audiences as it slipped into a state of historical fact versus fiction? What works and composers of the past 50 years will remain at our fingertips and in our ears 50 years hence? Voice Tears is an homage to the composers and music of the 20th century.

  • Score available at CMC National (bureau à Toronto).